- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2006

BAGHDAD — A truck bomb ripped through a line of cars at a checkpoint in Fallujah as bombings and shootings across Iraq yesterday killed at least 20 persons, including a U.S. Marine. President Jalal Talabani ordered the new parliament to hold its first session later this month.

The U.S. military identified the five killed in the Fallujah attack as a U.S. Marine, three members of an Iraqi family and an Iraqi soldier.

Car bombs also killed three persons in Samarra, where an attack on a Shi’ite shrine last month ignited nearly two weeks of sectarian violence that raised fears of civil war.

Authorities in Baghdad and south of the capital discovered the bodies of eight more men — many of them blindfolded, handcuffed and shot in the back of the head.

A bomb hit a U.S. tank in east Baghdad, setting it afire and blowing off the treads, police said. The American military said the M-1A2 Abrams tank hit a roadside bomb and the crew escaped unharmed.

It was the first Friday that Baghdad was not under an extended curfew or vehicle restrictions since the Feb. 22 shrine bombing in Samarra, and large numbers attended mosque for the most important prayer service of the week without major incident.

The unrelenting violence has complicated negotiations to form a broad-based government after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

Mr. Talabani’s chief of staff said the president had ordered parliament to meet later this month.

“The president of the republic has called for parliament to hold its first session on March 19,” Kamran al-Karadaghi said.

Despite the decree, there still was no resolution of the bitter dispute over a new term for Shi’ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, prompting Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region of Iraq, to issue a statement saying the country was in political “crisis.”

Mr. Barzani invited the leaders of all the major blocs in parliament to meet with him in the northern city of Irbil as soon as possible to seek a resolution.

Mr. Barzani has challenged Mr. al-Jaafari’s candidacy on grounds he is too divisive and would be unable to form a government representing all Iraq’s religious and ethnic factions. There also was great unease over Mr. al-Jaafari’s close ties to radical anti-American cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also hoped to coax the country’s major politicians to join him at a conference, Time magazine reported on its Web site. Elizabeth Colton, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Baghdad, said yesterday no meeting had been set.

Yesterday Sheik al-Sadr, who wields growing political influence and whose militia has clashed with U.S. forces, described the United States, Israel and Britain as a “triad of evil” in a television interview.

The anti-American cleric also said last month’s attack on the Shi’ite shrine in Samarra was carried out “in collusion with the occupiers and the Zionist entity of Israel,” meaning the U.S. and Israel.

The triad of evil reference was an obvious play on the words President Bush used in his 2002 State of the Union address, when he labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea the “axis of evil.” He used it again yesterday.

The United States wants to leave behind a strong central authority and has made that a precondition for its hopes to begin drawing down American forces this summer.

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